June 30, 2006

Getting Ready for the Motherland... the “Blaad”

With every passing day, the mess in my room and generally on all three floors of my house has been steadily increasing with suitcases and shopping bags sprawled across bedrooms, living rooms, and all over the basement. Yes, it’s that dreaded time of year, getting ready for vacation in Jordan.

In a few days, I’ll be flying thousands of feet above the ground, crossing Europe and the Atlantic, heading for Amman’s “smoke free” international airport. Before I get there, however, the soles of my feet have been working over time, crossing thousands of tiles and dozens of hours in shopping malls and department stores here in the suburbs of D.C. The unavoidable, endless chore of filling the suitcases with gifts for family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, the housekeeper… Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy buying gifts for those whom I love, because it’s the thought that counts, right?

Well, not exactly. For a birthday gift, yes, it’s the thought that counts. But coming from another continent after being gone for 10 months (oh the horror), it’s the size and quantity that counts. It’s not like my family members are picky and give us a list of things to buy for them, not at all. We have to guess what everyone likes and wants, and we can’t possibly hand them a little gift bag with a bottle of perfume or a nice piece of jewelry, can we now? It has to be worth it, whatever that means. But really, we enjoy that part, guessing shoe sizes, handbag styles, color preferences, lotion scents, and all that. We love it! And the best part, is the diversity of the reactions of our beloved family and friends who receive the gifts, oh so enjoyable (no, i'm not being sarcastic!)

But c’mon, there’s so much more to traveling than shopping! For me, it’s an endless supply of “to do lists” before I leave. Because here in the US, you can’t just up and leave for a 6 week vacation across the Atlantic. You have to put a stop on the mail that will be rushing into your mailbox. You have to prepay the bills that will land you the calls of credit collectors if you delay them. You have to mow the lawn and trim the grass and make sure someone does it while you’re away so your neighbors won’t call the police. You have to empty the fridge, take out the trash, and make sure the house is spotless so you can return to a nicely cleaned home.

But anyway, let’s fast forward to the plane ride, where I will sit contemplating the next six weeks of my life in Jordan. There is some excitement of course. I miss my extended family and can’t wait to see them. I can already smell my teta’s (grandma’s) great cooking. I can also picture the streets that will take me from the outskirts of Amman to University Street in Irbid. I can already hear the car horns working overtime the minute I step out of the airport. I can smell the diesel fumes. I can picture the latest BMW driving next to the old pickup truck. I can picture the old men sitting outside of their mini-markets and the shawerma stands surrounded by hungry teenagers.

Sitting on the plane for more than 12 hours and another 11 hours in the airport gives you a lot of time to think. Of course I will also be contemplating the changes that will occur during this vacation. An organized and detailed person, I am, who will miss the punctuality and structured life style of the US. I can’t help but say that I will miss “my own space” which will definitely not exist in a Middle Eastern country like Jordan. I won’t have access to the Internet with as much ease as I do here, which will surely drive me a “little” nuts. Nor will I have access to my own car with the ability to drive freely and safely as I do here. I will miss knowing exactly which isle to pick up my cereal and milk from, and swiping my credit card for a transaction as small as a pack of gum. And of course will miss most of the good customer service I take for granted here in the mall, gas station, grocery store, doctor’s office, hotel, gym, library, and of course restaurants of all price ranges.

Ok, ok, I know it’s only 6 weeks! Just think about all the shawerma and falafel I’ll be eating, yum! And of course all the new historical, cultural, and artsy places that I will be visiting thanks to my fellow Jordanian bloggers who have been sharing their experiences and news about all the places to visit and things to do in Jordan :) I hope to be able to meet as many Jordanian bloggers as possible, and any other bloggers visiting Jordan in the next month or so!

I’ll be blogging from there as much as I can and it might include more personal and less political posts than usual as well as lots of pictures, which I hope you will enjoy as well. Ok, back to the packing now, only a few days left!

(I can't just keep things short, can I now? This post wasn't intended to include all those details about gifts and such, but I just like to ramble! Concise isn't in my dictionary.)

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June 29, 2006

News Roundup On Palestine, US, Kuwait, and DRC

Occupied Palestinian Territories
- Israeli warplanes targeted the Interior Ministry as well as the Fatah party offices, causing significant structural damage in Gaza City. A 5-year old girl was injured in one of the blasts.
Eight members of the Hamas-led government and 20 MPs were kidnapped by Israeli Occupying Forces in the West Bank. The body of an Israeli settler taken hostage by armed Palestinian groups has been found in the West Bank.
- Egyptian president Mubarak said in an interview that Israel has yet to respond to an offer returning the Israeli soldier taken hostage on Sunday.
- Hundreds of Israeli websites were hacked into and servers shut down presumably in response to the current invasion of Gaza.
[Listen/Read/Watch an excellent debate between Dr. Norman Finkelstein and AIPAC official Josh Block on Democracy Now! (also included in the DN! podcast available on iTunes)]

United States
The Supreme Court ruled today that President Bush did not have "the constitutional authority to establish military tribunals to try enemy combatants and that the structures and procedures of the tribunals violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions." The case was brought forth by the former driver of Osama bin Laden who is currently held in Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration responded saying that they will try to work with Congress within the limits set by today's decision to "determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give [Guantanamo Bay detainees] their day in court."

Women candidates and voters participated for the first time in parliamentary elections, although initial results indicate that females who ran for office did not receive much support. "Some 28 women candidates had contested the 25-constituency race, and yet, by 2300 GMT, only male candidates had been returned."

Democratic Republic of Congo
"There are few places on earth where the gap between humanitarian needs and available resources is as large -- or as lethal."
- Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, as quoted in a Reuters background report on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Some 1,200 people die every day in the DRC from a lethal combination of disease and hunger caused by the war that officially ended in 2003 and ongoing conflict and displacement; close to 4 million people have died since 1998 from violence and war-related illness, according to studies by US-based aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC). "Congo is the deadliest conflict anywhere in the world over the past 60 years," said Richard Brennan, IRC's health director. [Source: Global Development Briefing by DEG]
[BBC guide to DRC conflict]

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June 28, 2006

"Summer Showers"= "Self Defense"

It does not appear that things will calm down anytime soon in the Holy Land. Not that they've been calm for the past weeks, where dozens of Palestinians have been killed and injured by the IOF. Nevertheless, the situation has escalated after Palestinian resistance fighters attacked an Israeli army post killing three soldiers and capturing another. The IOF started the invasion of Gaza last night by destroying bridges and knocking out power to more than 1.4 million Palestinians in the Strip. As usual, Israel likes to flex its muscles and show off its fire and man power in the face of Palestinian resistance fighters. To add to the drama affect, Israel felt the need to cross the border into Syria as well.

Aljazeera is reporting that Israeli war planes hovered over a palace belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad. An interview with an IOF spokesperson confirmed the news, saying that members of Hamas living in Syria will be targeted if the captured Israeli soldier is not released. AP also has the story.

The Syrian spokesperson said that their air defense forces scared the Israeli planes away:
"Two Israeli military planes circled with dawn at a low height, near our shore. The air defense forces opened fire at the planes and they split up and left the area." This was Syria's official version of the event, which was broadcast on Syrian television.

In the message, Syria denied any ties or responsibility to the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza. "These aggressive operations form a provocation and are unjustified. If their goal is to place responsibility for the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier on the political leadership of Hamas (in Damascus – R.N.) – then Israel is making a scandalous mistake that is crossing the boundaries of logic," the source said.
Not wanting to catch anyone by surprise (god forbid), the White House had this to say:
Q: Does the United States support what Israel is doing in Gaza?

MR. SNOW: Let me be -- I'm going to be very precise on this, because, as you know, these things are reported carefully. The hostage-taking and the attacks by Hamas last weekend have precipitated the current events in Gaza. As we have said since the attack, Hamas should release and return the kidnapped Israeli soldier immediately. It's the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to stop all acts of violence and terror. Hamas has done the opposite: It's been complicit in perpetrating violence, terror and hostage-taking. Israel has the right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens. In any actions the government of Israel may undertake, the United States urges that it ensures that innocent civilians are not harmed, and also that it avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure. All parties ought to take every measure to restore the security situation in Gaza.

Q: And do we think that the Israeli response has been appropriate and within the limits that you're talking about?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize further than what I've told you. There's your statement of position.

Q: But, Tony, the Israelis have bombed a power plant -- that harms innocent civilians. Haven't they, like, clearly gone beyond what you've just described here?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to get into operational details here. Let's just point out once again, you have the Israeli -- the Israeli forces are trying to reclaim somebody who is kidnapped and is being held hostage in Gaza, and they are doing what they can to return him. It would be a lot easier if the Palestinian Authority and if Hamas simply returned the kidnapped soldier. I am not going to get into rendering judgment on any of the operational details of what's going on there.

Q: Palestinian leaders have called this "collective punishment." Is it, or isn't it?

MR. SNOW: Again, I will just simply refer to it. I'm not going to get into the midst of the characterizations. I'll repeat, the Palestinian Authority could make this very simple -- they could return the kidnapped soldier. And the most important thing is to try to restore some semblance of security as rapidly as possible, and we hope both sides will cooperate in that.

Mr. Snow, it is very simple, like you said. The Israeli government could simply return the 9,000+ kidnapped Palestinians currently rotting in Israeli jails. Simple enough, right?

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June 27, 2006

Summer Showers: Israel Begins Pounding Gaza (updated)

For any individual out there who thought the Gaza "disengagement" plan meant any inkling of freedom for Gazans, please think again. The occupation of Gaza is alive and well. When Israel is allowed to run its tanks in and out of Gaza whenever it wants, begins shelling power plants, destroying bridges, and targeting civilians, how are we supposed to believe that Gaza was given any independence in the first place?! Not that I fell for the "disengagement" joke, but sometimes I try to play devil's advocate with myself in favor of the IOF line, and I'm consistently unconvinced.

Over the past few hours, Israeli tanks, F-16, and Apachi helicopters began an expected assault on the 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip after an Israeli soldier was taken prisoner by Palestinian fighters on Sunday. Aljazeera is reporting that the IOF has called the operation "Summer Showers".

Aljazeera journalists reporting from different parts of the Gaza said that a main bridge connecting the norther part of Gaza to the central and southern parts has been attacked by the Israeli airforce, as well as a central power plant which has resulted in the absence of electricity in many parts of the Gaza Strip. Shelling has also begun in Rafah, Khan Yunus, and in other parts of southern Gaza. The AP has also confirmed the same information.
Israeli planes attacked two bridges and a power station, knocking out electricity in most of the Gaza Strip early Wednesday and stepping up the pressure on Palestinian militants holding captive a 19-year-old Israeli soldier.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children are now sitting in the darkness of Gaza, waiting for their homes to be shelled, their men to be detained, and their relatives to be killed by a 20-something Israeli sniper. Patients in Gaza's hospitals will find themselves in the dark, their respirators and other necessary medical equipment suddenly shut down, and will lie in bed waiting to see if the world will so much as utter a whimper in the face of Israeli aggression. Nobody should be surprised if they are left to die in those hospital beds.

On the other side of the world, I sit in the comfort of my suburban Washington home, slightly annoyed by the heavy rains and thunderstorms that have disrupted my daily outings. When we lost power for an hour last night, my biggest worry was that I could not watch the soccer matches on tv, access the Internet on my laptop, microwave my dinner, or enjoy a night's sleep with my precious A/C pumping cool air into my bedroom. There were no F-16's flying over head, or tanks rolling into my street, or snipers stationed in the house across mine. They were just summer showers; the wet type, not the burning type.

May God be with you, Gaza.

[Israeli soldiers cheer as they prepare to move into the Gaza Strip at an army base outside Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, near the border with the southern Gaza Strip, early Wednesday June 28, 2006. AP photo]

UPDATE: Aljazeera's live coverage has been very informative, and I'm glued to the tv for the most part. Members of a resistance group in the West Bank have claimed responsibility for taking an Israeli settler hostage through a phone call made to Aljazeera. The spokesman said that the settler is a military trainee. He said their requests from the Israeli government are the same as those who captured the other Israeli soldier: the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The reporters scattered throughout Gaza are saying that the IOF is using a well known technique of faking an air strike by breaking the sound barrier through sonic booms. This is mainly used as psychological warfare as it scares the residents (mainly young children) who assume that an air attack is imminent.

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June 26, 2006

Thoughts and Images from the DC Anti-Torture Protest

I managed to make it this morning to the 24-hour vigil organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition that I wrote about yesterday. The turnout was not huge, but that was mainly due to the heavy rain fall and thunderstorms that have been hitting the DC area. The offices of TASSC were flooded last night so that affected the whole day's program. In front of the White House, attendees passed out informational flyers, held up banners and signs, chanted anti-torture slogans, and half a dozen people got arrested after a civil disobedience session.

I met an old Peruvian man who was wearing a picture of his son who was tortured to death in 1993 by the Fujimori government. He was an innocent university student who was arrested, tortured, and then burned to death by the authorities. I met an American nun who was tortured by the government in Guatemala during a period of civil unrest until she escaped. These and other governments in Latin and South America were supported by the US; some of the torturers were even trained by Americans.

I met a young Jordanian-American woman whose brother was tortured in Saudi Arabia at the behest of the US government. Ahmed Abu-Ali is an American citizen who languished in a Saudi jail for 20 months without being charged, was tortured by the "Mabahith" (secret police), and then finally sent back to the US where the government sought to get revenge from him and his family by making frivolous charges against him. He was convicted by a jury based on confessions he made while being tortured. Yes, you heard me right, they took the statements he made while his body was whipped and his nails were pulled off, and used that as evidence against him. (Please recall my earlier post about Maher Arar who was rendered by the US to Syria where he said, "I was terrified, and I did not want to be tortured. I would say anything to avoid torture.")

The effects of torture on an individual cannot be erased. I could tell while speaking to these survivors that this was not something easy to do, to reopen the wounds and recall the painful memories. But they were brave enough to do it because they realize that innocent people like themselves are facing the same type of oppression, and as survivors of torture, they want to put an end to it. From Guantanamo to Syria to Guatemala to China, prisoners around the world in more than 150 countries are being tortured as we speak.

The burden is on us to make a difference, to change the policies, to lobby for change, to ask for justice.

Here are some pictures of the event (click to enlarge):

"zero tolerance for torture"

"All religions honor human dignity. Torture seeks to destroy it."

Police truck driving off with the 6 arrested protestors as the crowd waves
the elderly Peruvian man in the orange shirt with his dead son's picture on his chest
the crowd in front of the White House

A man dressed as a Guantanamo Bay inmate with a sack on his head, like the victims of Abu Ghraib. His poster reads "No exemptions for Bush. Ban all torture now."

This wasn't part of the event. The white tent is the home of an old woman who sleeps there in protest, I guess. Her signs, addressed to the White House, read: "Live by the bomb, die by the bomb" and "Ban all nuclear weapons or have a nice doomsday".
[previous posts on torture: Extraordinary Rendition; Torture in Israel]

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June 25, 2006

Anti-Torture Events in DC and NY Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Monday June 26th, is the UN International Day in Support of Victims and Survivors of Torture. June is Torture Awareness Month, and I have written a couple of posts about this topic as a member of the Bloggers Against Torture campaign. Whether you are a blogger or not, there is a lot each of us can do to make a positive impact and put pressure on our governments to stop using this inhumane policy against prisoners.

For those of you in the Washington D.C. metro area, an organization called the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition is holding a 24-hour vigil to commemorate the victims of torture and raise awareness about this important cause. The events will take place in Lafayette Park across the White House from 7am on Monday to 7am on Tuesday (see directions below) . There is a full day program with various activities and events taking place, including:
- There will be a Mock Prison Cell on site during the 24-Hour Vigil to symbolize the ongoing practice of torture today. Each hour a different volunteer will sit in the cell and represent a specific individual—someone who is disappeared or detained, who has been tortured, or is at risk of being tortured today.

- Friends of TASSC will demonstrate their solidarity with survivors by a non-violent protest against torture during the Vigil in which they will risk arrest.

- Be a “ Walking Billboard .” And see the sites of Washington ! Spend a few hours walking through downtown Washington with a sign raising awareness about torture. Walking is good for you and human rights, too! (Full schedule in pdf)
Other events in DC and New York (source):
June 26
Washington, DC
9:00 to 5:00pm Lobby Day Against Extraordinary Rendition follows teach-in and lobby training June 25. Capitol Hill. Contact Mary Jo at Amnesty International to coordinate lobby visits.

Washington, DC 5:00 to 6:30pm Vigil at the Vice President's House, Sponsored by the Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture. Email WRRCAT.

New York City 10:30am to 1:00pm Solemn procession and demonstration to shut down Guantanamo. Witness Against Torture Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 47th St. and 1st Ave.

New York City 6:30 to 8:30pm Movie screening: "Gitmo: The New Rules of War" Followed by a panel with Mark Kennis, Amnesty International, and Ramzi Kassem, counsel for Guantanamo detainees. $10 admission to benefit torture victims. Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive New York, Room 10T. For more information call 212-87-6854.

June 27
Washington, DC 12:00 to 1:30pm (EDT) Capitol Hill Panel Discussion on Guantanamo: "Should the U.S. Shut Down Gitmo?" Speakers include former Guantanamo Bay Muslim Chaplain James Yee. Room 2226, Rayburn House Office Building. Council on American-Islamic Relations.

If you live in the area, please make an effort to stop by even if only for a few minutes. We cannot sit back and watch scandals like Abu Ghraib take place and taint the image of our country. We should not allow our government to send suspects to foreign governments to be tortured and stripped of every basic human right they possess.

Lafayette Park is located directly north of the White House on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets, NW. The easiest way to get there is using Metro; Farragut West on the Blue and Orange lines is the closest station to the site of the events. Here is a map of the area; the red star is the Farragut West station.

No Torture. Not Now. Not Ever.

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Cold-blooded Murder? Yes! Legitimate Resistance? No!

The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) were stunned as an attack on one of their convoys by Palestinian resistance fighters caused the death of three and injured four others. One other soldier has been taken hostage. The lives of Israeli soldiers are apparently worth more than that of Palestinian civilians, dozens of whom have been killed in the past two weeks in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli Defense Minister has vowed to take revenge on those who perpetrated the attack, as Prime Minister Olmert not surprisingly put the blame on the Abbas and his government. Israelis seeking revenge for soldiers killed in battle is acceptable, but Palestinians seeking revenge for children and innocent men and women killed in cold blood is not. Welcome to Israel, the "only democracy in the Middle East".

The Hamas led Palestinian government had this to say about the attack:
"We are calling on the resistance groups, if they do have the missing soldier... to protect his life and treat him well," said spokesman Ghazi Hamad, speaking in Hebrew at a press conference.

"We urge Israel not to go towards an escalation," he said.

An article in the Washington Post completely disregarded the above statements made by the Palestinian government's spokesperson, and instead opted to include Abbas's condemnation of the attack.

This is what he had to say, from Aljazeera:
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, condemned the attack in a statement saying: "We have always warned against the danger of certain groups or factions leaving the national consensus and carrying out operations for which the Palestinian people will always have to pay the price."
In another statement from his office, Abbas had this to say:

''All [factions] had agreed to continue the cease-fire and stop all the military attacks against Israel, in order not to give Israel any pretext to launch a large-scale military operation that they were threatening our people with in Gaza. This attack contradicts all we heard.''

Who is this man kidding?! Since when does Israel need a pretext for firing missiles into Gaza and the West Bank?! Since when does Israel need an "excuse" to attack Palestinians on beaches, in their homes, and in the streets?! Israel does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whoever it wants. Without any regard for human life, Israel launches attacks left and right on a daily basis, and gets full support from its strongest ally, the US.

The most that Abbas could muster is a condemnation of a legitimate resistance attack on a military target; a basic right for every occupied population in the world. What a shame!

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June 24, 2006

Torture in Israel

Besides the fact that it is illegally occupying Palestinian land, oppressing millions of Palestinians, treating non-Jewish citizens as second-class citizens, and continuously violating international law, the "only democracy in the Middle East" has one more policy to be proud of: the systematic use of torture against Palestinian prisoners.

The detention and long term imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is a common daily ritual for the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF). Every Palestinian family has experienced the arrest of a father, brother, husband, or cousin. With or without evidence, "administrative detention" is a common occurrence. Once the individual has been detained, the chances that they won't be tortured are very slim.

Although Israel has signed & ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1991, it is considered one of the states "which have made a declaration, under Article 28, that they do not recognize the competence of the Committee against Torture to investigate allegations of widespread torture within their boundaries." In fact, being a signatory of this convention did not stop Israel from continuing its policy of torture throughout its prison system. Israel's General Security Service, or Shin Bet as it is commonly known, argued that its practices were permissible under some circumstances, and "did not amount to torture." The UN Convention, however, makes it clear that torture cannot be justified under any circumstances:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. (Article 2b).
B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, notes this on torture in Israel:
For years, torture was commonly used in General Security Service interrogations. After the Landau Commission made its recommendations, in 1987, the GSS interrogated at least 850 Palestinians a year by means of torture. The methods included violent shaking, binding the detainees in painful positions, and covering their head with a foul-smelling sack. All governmental authorities, from the IDF to the Supreme Court, took part in approving torture, in developing new methods, and in supervising them.
A 1994 report by Human Rights Watch noted the following about torture policies in Israel:
Israel's two main interrogation agencies in the occupied territories engage in a systematic pattern of ill-treatment and torture - according to internationally recognized definitions of the terms - when trying to extract from Palestinian security suspects confessions or information about third parties.

The overriding strategy of Israel's interrogation agencies in getting uncooperative detainees to talk is to subject them to a coordinated, rigid and increasingly painful regime of physical constraints and psychological pressures over days and very often for three or four weeks, during which time the detainees are, almost without exception, denied visits by their lawyers and families. These measures seriously taint the voluntariness of the confessions that they help to bring about, and therefore, compromise the fundamental fairness of the military courts that try Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The methods used in nearly all interrogations are prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged sight deprivation using blindfolds or tight-fitting hoods; forced, prolonged maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful; and verbal threats and insults.

These methods are almost always combined with some of the following abuses: confinement in tiny, closet-like spaces; exposure to temperature extremes, such as in deliberately overcooled rooms; prolonged toilet and hygiene deprivation; and degrading treatment, such as forcing detainees to eat and use the toilet at the same time. In a large number of cases, detainees are also moderately or severely beaten by their interrogators.

In a report to the UN Committee on Torture in 1998, HRW again noted the lack of progress in Israeli prisons:
Despite the Committee's repeated recommendations of concrete steps Israel should take to bring its law and practice into compliance, Israel has consistently disregarded these recommendations and continues to use torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during interrogations of Palestinian detainees. The magnitude of Israel's violations of the Convention Against Torture is well known to the Committee, having been extensively documented by U.N. bodies and international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations.
The Al-Khiam detention facility located in southern Lebanon is a horrifying example of Israel's use of torture against Palestinian prisoners. When the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended in 2000, the facility was abandoned and the prisoners made their way out, revealing horrific accounts of abuse and torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators. Not even women, children, and elderly men were spared. Electronic Intifada has a great photostory on the Al-Khiam prison. These are excerpts from the captions:

Prisoners have been routinely tortured, three times a day. Torture included beatings, being prodded with electrical cables in sensitive parts of the body and being hung from painful positions.

Some of the detainees were children, like 15-year-old Ali Tawbeh, who with his parents was dragged from his home by the Israeli occupation forces in 1997. Other hostages, like Abdeh Malkani, were over seventy years old. Hussein Awada, 65 years old, had been detained since June 1999. He had serious heart problems and could only move with the help of a stick.

Israel ran the prison using the militia they had created, the South Lebanese Army. The Khiam detention centre was set up by the Israelis in 1985. They were directly in charge of it until 1987, when they handed control over to their allies, the SLA, while still pulling the strings. They provided the training for the torturers and lead the torture sessions. They paid the salaries and provided all the equipment.
The BBC also produced a great documentary titled "Israel Accused" about the Al-Khiam prison, which included many interviews with prisoners who suffered in that facility. The accounts of abuse are heart wrenching, revealing gruesome details of the torture tactics used by prison officials. The documentary won the 2001 Amnesty International Award, and it is definitely worth watching. HRW also reported on Al-Khiam in this release.

It was not until September of 1999 when the Israeli High Court ruled against six interrogation methods used against prisoners that the use of torture was somewhat curtailed. B'Tselem notes that while the ruling has helped, it has by no means ended state sanctioned ill treatment of prisoners:

In September 1999, the High Court of Justice ruled that some of the interrogation methods used by the GSS against Palestinian detainees were illegal and unacceptable. The judgment caused a significant change in the scope of the use of torture.

However, there have been signs indicating that the GSS did not cease using torture. For example, in July 2002, Ha’aretz quoted a senior GSS official who said that, since the High Court’s decision, ninety Palestinians had been defined as “ticking bombs” and “extraordinary interrogation methods,” i.e., torture, was used against them. In an interview with three GSS interrogators, published in Ma’ariv in July 2004, one of the interrogators admitted that the GSS “uses every manipulation possible, up to shaking and beating.” The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has collected dozens of affidavits from Palestinians who were interrogated by the GSS and claimed that their interrogators used violent interrogation methods on them.

Since the High Courts decision of 1999, attempts have been made to enact a statute that would permit the GSS to use torture. So far, these attempts have failed. Any law that grants the GSS permission to use physical force in interrogations or to intentionally cause mental suffering – even if limited to cases intended to save lives and even if “the use of torture” is expressly prohibited – would clash with one of the most firmly-rooted principles of international law: the absolute prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

After the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, it was revealed that some American interrogators received training from their Israeli counterparts. Clearly, Israel likes to share its expertise in this area.

There is no reason to believe that Shin Bet does not continue to use other tactics not yet prohibited by Israeli courts, but which nonetheless amount to torture. Hiding behind its claims of "democracy" and "self defense" against an occupied Palestinian population, Israel does not hesitate to violate international law because it is confident that the US will fervently defend its actions in the international arena, most prominently through its veto power in the UN Security Council. No need to worry about silly international conventions when you have a great defense team, free of charge. Nothing will guarantee Israeli security except an end to its occupation and systematic oppression of millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.


Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

Electronic Intifada: Detention and Torture in Israel

Torture Awareness Month

Bloggers Against Torture

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